Thursday, August 23, 2007
Anderson hopes to carry momentum into general election
By BARRY BURLESON
A Marshall County native is one win away from being elected to a state-wide office.
Gary Anderson, born and raised in Byhalia, is the Democratic nominee for insurance commissioner. He defeated George Dale in the August 7 primary. He will face Republican candidate Mike Chaney in November.
“Beating a 32-year incumbent was no easy feat,” Anderson said via cell phone last week. “He had a lot of fight in him. He had his support base, but we simply outworked him. The voters heard our message and understood what we stand for.”
He said one of the key persons helping carry that message to communities across the state was his wife Debra.
“When she speaks, she knocks it out of the ball park,” he said.
Anderson, who resides in Jackson, received 70 percent of the vote in Marshall County.
“I’m proud of Marshall County,” he said. “I knew they’d be that way, but I was glad to see the numbers. The people of Marshall County have been very supportive, and they’re a big part of our push forward.”
The Gulf Coast area, devastated two years ago by Hurricane Katrina, played a huge role in his primary victory – 70 percent in Jackson County, 75 percent in Hancock and 82 percent in Harrison.
“They’d been most affected by issues of insurance,” said Anderson, who worked as chief fiscal officer during Gov. Ronnie Musgrove’s administration. “They know firsthand about the lack of assistance from the Department of Insurance. Their vote indicated a strong need for change.”
He also said the incumbent, Dale, had too cozy of a relationship with the insurance industry.
“I am taking no money from insurance companies,” Anderson said about his campaign. “I want to act independently for the ratepayers when matters come before the commissioner’s office. I want a business relationship with the insurance companies, not a cozy one.”
He said there are also real differences between his next opponent and himself.
“Mr. Chaney has said, if elected, he wants to turn the position into an appointed one,” Anderson said. “I strongly believe the people of Mississippi have the right to vote for their leader in an office that regulates the insurance industry.
“My opponent wants to put the office up to the highest bidder. We are really addressing that issue on the campaign trail – if Mississippians don’t like a leader, they will vote him out.”
There are other differences, too, Anderson said, and “our campaign from here on out will be totally about our differences.”
He said Mississippi has the third highest insurance rate in the nation, behind California and Texas.
“That is so wrong – a state that’s 50th in per capita income to have the third highest insurance rate,” Anderson said. “My focus, as the next commissioner, will be to lower those premiums.”
One of the big things that drove Anderson to run for the job was his work the past three and half years as a consultant with North Mississippi Medical Center in Tupelo. He represented that hospital in a contractual dispute with Blue Cross Blue Shield.
“It took a year to bring Blue Cross Blue Shield to the table and get a contract,” he said. “We worked through a lot of problems.
“North Mississippi decided to recruit other insurance companies into Tupelo. They came in and three months into enrollment, Blue Cross Blue Shield came to the table.
“I’m a strong believer in competition. It can help drive prices down. In many areas of the state, particularly the rural areas, there are only two or three carriers. We’ve got to increase competition in our state, and I know how to sell the State of Mississippi to business and industry.
“At the same time, this office will be much more consumer focused, too.”
Anderson still comes “home” to Marshall County as much as possible to visit family. He is the son of Odie and Gertrude Anderson of Byhalia.
He said his father, who will be 82 in September, still farms. He has about 50 head of cattle.
“If a fence needs mending or he needs a bale of hay, he doesn’t mind incorporating me into that plan of work,” said Anderson, laughing. “I enjoy being home as much as I can with my parents. They’re happy with the way things occurred (in the August 7 primary).”
His sister, Felicia Anderson-Harvell, has also gotten into politics. She is an elected member of the Marshall County School Board.
“I was so glad to see Felicia step forward,” Anderson said. “She will do a good job for the Marshall County School District. She will be an excellent educational leader in Marshall County for years to come. I’m real proud of her.”
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